Teens drive jump in internet use on phones

A surge in mobile internet use by Brits under 25 has lifted the proportion of people using their handsets to go online while outside home, according to official statistics

Mobile phones have jumped in popularity as a way to get online, fuelled by hefty use of handsets by younger Britons, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics.

UK mobile internet users chart

More than 70 percent of people aged between 16 and 24 used their mobile phones to go online, according to a report by the Office for National Statistics. Image credit: ONS

In the first three months of 2011, around 45 percent of British internet users — a total of 17.6 million people — used a handset for access, up from 31 percent the previous year, the ONS said in an annual report published on Wednesday.

"There have been significant changes in the way people connect to the internet in recent years," the ONS said in its report on internet use by individuals and households. "In 2011, almost half of internet users connected to the internet using a mobile phone, while away from the home or office."

The biggest rise was among young people: more than 70 percent of those aged between 16 and 24 years old went online via a mobile phone, up from 44 percent in 2010. At the other end, those above the age of 65 were least likely to go online using a handset, at just eight percent.

Ernest Doku, technology expert at uSwitch, put the divide down to the different cultures of the two age groups.

"Younger Britons see the internet as a necessity, not a luxury. Many are now using smartphones as their primary way of accessing the net, rather than home computers, and are becoming used to the idea of having the world in their pocket," Doku said in a statement.

Recently, mobile manufacturers and operators have been targeting the youth market with handsets — such as Samsung's Galaxy Y or the Vodafone 555 — that provide deep Facebook integration at a cheaper price than a fully fledged smartphone.

While social networks such as Facebook have become more popular across all age groups, it is young people who visit those sites the most — 91 percent, according to the ONS data.

Alongside its annual report, the ONS released statistics drawn from its second-quarter Labour Force Survey, which covered internet usage by older people. This also reflected a generation gap.

"Age is clearly a factor," Doku noted, referring to the Labour Force Survey figures. "The number of people over 55 who have never used the internet fell very slightly, but more than one in five has still never been online. The proportion of over-75s who have never used the web even increased and is now well over three-quarters."

The survey also found that 77 percent of UK households now have internet access, up from 73 percent. However, more than half of people without a home connection said it was because they "don't need the internet".

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